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Trip Report NeoPatrick in Asia -- a report as it happens (sort of)

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First the basics. I’m traveling alone and am using 130,000 American FF miles for One World Pass that allows 130,000 miles and 16 segments. So off I go to Asia in Business Class, getting First Class when there is no business class. I left on July 30 flying Ft. Lauderdale to Chicago for three nights there before boarding the non stop American flight from Chicago to Shanghai on Aug. 2.

I’m spent a lot of time on line, and have some internet acquaintances or “recommended friends of friends” in most of the cities I’m headed to, so that should be nice. Otherwise I’m on my own for 2 and a half months (I get home Oct. 13) except for a 16 day trip with OAT in Vietnam that starts and ends in Bangkok.

PART ONE: Shanghai

So: Arrival in Shanghai August 3. Internet friend Anthony was to meet me on arrival. He is a Chinese structural engineer and “appraiser” or “cost analysist” born in Chongqing and living in Shanghai. He was doing consultant work for various construction companies with Expo, but presently is without specific assignments, so was free for the week to show me around. The flight was wonderful (departed 10:40 AM from Chicago and lands in Shanghai at 2:05 PM the next day). The flight arrived about a half hour early, there was no line at all in immigration, and my bag was the third one off the carousel. So when I got to the arrivals hall, I was not spotting Anthony. Panic. I went to a customer service desk and they actually called his cell phone for me and handed the phone to me – he was just getting off a bus right outside the terminal – shocked that I was already waiting when my flight wasn’t even supposed to have landed yet! So while waiting the 5 minutes or so for him to arrive, I got a couple thousand RMB out of the ATM. We took the subway into town, which I already “knew” was a direct line, but was surprised that we still had to switch trains at one point. We took it toe Nanjing Road East and then walked the approx. 3 blocks to my hotel – The Salvo. Loved the hotel. Very elegant traditional décor, really friendly staff, a large suite with free internet (in fact there was a computer provided in the room), and I was on the “business level” with executive check-in, huge breakfast buffet in the top floor dining room, and various “perks”.

I was surprisingly not very tired, and we took a long walk along the busy Bund, just a couple blocks from the hotel. We circled around and came down the bustling Nanjing Road – a huge pedestrian shopping street, ending up at the upstairs Xingwan Tea Restaurant where we had dinner – dishes of snow peas with smoky ham slices, red peppers, and oyster mushrooms; fish in a spicy broth; and a huge pot filled with I think half a chicken and noodles, bamboo shoots, and lots of spices. Delicious food – 157 RMB total – including my beer – about $23. I think it was about 9 PM, but my eyelids were really droopy, so Anthony departed and I headed back to the hotel, inviting him to join me for breakfast buffet. (I mistakenly thought I had two breakfasts included, but ended up having to pay for his each morning – at 90 (about $14), a small price to pay for his hospitality and ‘guide” service.

Wed. morning after breakfast (this is when I learned this guy could really eat!) we headed to Expo. Anthony had prebought my senior tickets (3 days for 300 RMB).
We took the subway there and during the course of the day hit 18 pavillions. We purposely avoided the ones that had really long waits (he’s been there quite a few times and knew the ins and outs. We had a rather odd lunch at the US Pavillion – US Diner of chili dogs, French fries, and soft drinks. Anthony had never had a chili dog with onions before and he was more excited about that than I was at the various Chinese dishes I was trying on the trip. We had tickets for a huge cultural show in the giant exhibition arena which was interesting and fun, then left about 9 PM, taking the subway back to Nanjing Road where we found a late night restaurant still open on the way back to The Salvo. Good fried rice with shrimp, noodles with beef, and vegetables in fish broth with clams and mussels.

Thurs. morning – after breakfast, we did Anthony’s version of a walking tour. It started with his taking books back to the huge city library near the French Concession and walking that area, then heading to the Old City and having lunch at the famous upstairs Steamed Bun Restaurant (NanXiang) – I must apologize, as Anthony would often write the names of places into my journal and now I find I can’t necessarily read his writing). There I learned to gently lift the bun with my chopsticks and bite out a tiny hole and suck out the broth, before popping the whole thing into my mouth. I got a high rating from Anthony for my novice abilities. We walked Yu Garden. We both returned to the hotel. I was having a power failure and it was near 100 degrees F. I took a nap and I think Anthony did as well on the sofa! I wanted to go to the Hyatt in Pudong – back in 2003, Lee and I had planned to go to China and we were planning on staying at that Hyatt – then the tallest or highest hotel in the world – but we canceled that trip to SARS. So I really wanted to go there. We went for drinks on Cloud 9 – the 89th Floor. Anthony had only shorts with him and when we got to the elevators up, a hostess started to tell him in Chinese that he couldn’t wear shorts there – but when I pulled out my Hyatt Platinum card and she realized he was with me – suddenly it was no problem. So up we went. Anthony doesn’t drink so he had some sort of non alcoholic strawberry milkshake, I’d call it, and I had a huge, perfectly made Dewars Dry Robroy – MY DRINK. The bill for the two drinks (plus a bottle of Voss Water) was 264.50 ($ 39) and worth every penny. The view was spectacular. We did a lot of walking in Pudong, then crossed back over the Bund, made a trip to the train station to buy train tickets for the next day, and somehow ended up at a fast food place for dinner about 10 PM (Anthony was still aghast at how much I had spent on two drinks!) where we had fried noodles and some sort of noodle soup. Dirt cheap but frankly not very good.

Fri. morning we met early for breakfast, then took the train to Hangzhou. It was HOT and HUMID beyond belief. When we arrived, we went to buy return tickets for the evening (they wouldn’t sell them to us the night before because the windows were about to close when we got there), but now all trains were sold out for the day and evening. Anthony said not to worry, we’d just take a bus back to Shanghai when we wanted to go.
Then he talked me into renting bicycles and we rode around West Lake (or around most of the lake and across the long causeway and the rest of the way around. We stopped a lot to see things, buy and drink gallons of water, and I discovered my new addiction, frozen peach “popsicles”! We had a very late lunch on the lake eating “Dong Po Pork”, and a whole lake fish cooked in vinegar sauce, water chestnuts, and garlic, and having soup noodles (Anthony never eats a meal without ending with soup noodles of some sort).
So at about 5:30 or so we turned in our bicylcles and took a local bus to the long distance North Bus Station – which in bumper to bumper traffic took nearly an hour. Once there, we were in trouble. The last bus of the day was just leaving and it was sold out. But they told us there was another Shanghai bus from the other station leaving in an hour and it still had 20 tickets – but she couldn’t sell them to us there. So we got a taxi and raced to get there just before it left, only to find out those 20 tickets were now all gone. What to do? Back to the train stations where Anthony tried pleading for tickets on one of the two remaining sold out trains, but no luck. As we headed out of the train stations, there was someone selling bus tickets – an “illegal” bus which somehow mysteriously appears when the trains are full. They charged us more than the train costs, but we got the last two seats and we were off, to arrive back in Shanghai about 1 AM. Anthony claims he goes to Hangzhou all the time and has never prebought tickets, but EXPO has brought massive crowds to the entire area. Dinner was a couple granola/fruit bars on the bus.

Sat. morning after breakfast – we arranged a little later one than usual – we were off for another day of exploring, including Jing’an Temple and then took the subway to the end of a line and then a bus for about an hour to the water town of Zhujiajiao. This was an easier option that the major ones without spending all day going and coming – especially without preplanning and buying tickets in advance. I found the town perfectly delightful, as many “crafts” as “junk” for sale, and probably less touristy than the major water towns supposedly are. We did a boat ride on the canals (Anthony and a Chinese couple negotiating a good price for a boat the four us shared). Then we ate at a tiny place along the canal – it only had three tables sitting by the canal and about 4 or 5 more inside. No English and no picture menu, but Anthony by now had figured what I liked and didn’t, so he went inside to look at the fish tanks and to order. We had five dishes – two wonderful vegetable dishes, and eggs scrambled with “silver” fish, a whole plate of about 6 inch long catfish cooked in soy, sugar, garlic sauce, and the one thing I didn’t care for – a whole “puffer fish” which was sort of like eating rubber) cooked in a big pot of broth.
This meal (along with my beer) was about $17.

Sunday morning, we met early for breakfast so we could go back to Expo arriving at 8:15 before they open. I thought our goal was to get China Pavilion tickets (you have to get there early and get your timed tickets for late in the day as they are gone by about 9:30 or 10). But after the gates opened at 9 and then we raced to get in line where we stood in the heat for 45 minutes, I discovered (Anthony knew) we were in line for the Taiwan Pavilion tickets. Sure enough our tickets were for 6:30 PM and they closed the line by 9:30 with all tickets gone for the day. Anthony insisted the Taiwan Pavilion is one of the best – in certainly is the most limited admission one of the Expo – as they take only 30 people every 10 minutes, I think it is, all day long. So my hopes of not spending all day at Expo were already dashed since we’d definitely be there till at least 6:30. Spent the day visiting more pavilions – and trying to survive the heat – 39.5 C today – that’s 103!
Had a surprisingly good lunch at a chain restaurant there – Bi Feng Tang, with several Chinese dishes, but the plate of braised enoki mushrooms was the BEST. So after the Taiwan Pavilion – which was great, by the way, with a sort of tea ceremony where you keep the tea cups, and you electronically launch a wish by hot air lantern – we took the boat back up the river to downtown. Breathtaking views at night. Shanghai sure does impress with its architecture. Once on land, we taxied to Xintiandi, the trendy dining and bar area and had a nice dinner at DiTaiFung, steamed morning glories with garlic and red pepper, buns with shrimp and pork, spicy filled wontons, and noodle soup with shrimp and bamboo shoots. Nice. I bid Anthony farewell – he was a great friend now who looked after me perfectly the whole time in Shanghai, although he couldn’t stop apologizing for “screwing up” the trip to Hangzhou, which upset him far more than it did me.

The next morning, it was a leisure breakfast then the subway and the super Maglev train to the airport for my flight to Osaka departing at 1:25. I guess the Maglev cuts off about 15 or 18 minutes of time, but frankly it seems just as easy to stick with the subway (at least for my route) than making the switch.

(More to come)

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